British Columbia

B.C. politicians hit the streets to talk proportional representation

Advocates and opponents of proportional representation hit the streets in Vancouver over the weekend to sway voters toward their sides for an upcoming referendum — but many of the people they spoke to seemed confused by the options.

'I do have a degree in political science, but I'm not an expert in electoral representation,' says MLA

Melanie Mark (left) and a group of volunteers were out campaigning for proportional representation in Vancouver on Saturday. B.C. voters are about to have their say on what type of voting system they would prefer. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Advocates and opponents of proportional representation hit the streets in Vancouver over the weekend to sway voters for an upcoming province-wide referendum — but many of the people they spoke with seemed confused by the options. 

Voters across British Columbia will soon choose whether to keep its current first-past-the-post electoral system or change to a system of proportional representation.

Mount Pleasant NDP MLA Melanie Mark canvassed voters alongside a small group of volunteers on Saturday touting the benefits of proportional representation, an electoral system in which in which parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for them.  

"Right now, 40 per cent of the vote can allow a party to get 100 per cent of the power, and for British Columbians that's not on," Mark said. 

"People don't think it's fair, they don't feel like their vote counts," Mark said.

If a majority of people are in favour of proportional representation, then one of three systems — which voters will rank in order of preference in a second question on the ballot — will be adopted for any future provincial election. 

This fall, B.C. will choose whether to keep its current first-past-the-post electoral system or change to a proportional representation model. Here's what you need to know. 2:51

Elections B.C. mailed out ballots earlier this week with the options, along with a guide explaining what they are. But many of the people Mark spoke with on Saturday said they weren't clear about what the options mean.

Even Mark seemed to have trouble explaining how any of the three systems would work. When reporters asked her several times to break them down, she just repeated that the first-past-the-post system is inadequate.

"With all due respect I don't have all of the guide memorized, I just received it," Mark said. "I do have a degree in political science, but I'm not an expert in electoral representation."

'It is complicated'

Former NDP strategist Bill Tieleman is leading the group heading the no side of the campaign, alongside former B.C. Liberal MLA Suzanne Anton and a former B.C. public servant Bob Plecas. 

"It is complicated, it is confusing," Tieleman said. "People are really not sure what the heck is going on with this."

Tieleman says proportional representation creates perpetual minority governments and political instability, which is not good for jobs and the economy. 

His group also says it could hurt rural voters and allow extremist parties to rise with as little as five per cent of the vote — a point raised in a controversial ad it released earlier this week.

One of Tieleman's main concerns is the lack of information about how any of the three systems would work, including how electoral boundaries may change and how many MLA would be elected. 

"All those decisions with come after the referendum which is exactly the wrong way to change our democratic institutions," he said. "We don't know what would happen. This is a political pandora's box."

With files from Joel Ballard 

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